NYC Admissions Guide 2015-2016: Universal Pre-K

Editor’s note: This story is part of our larger 2015-2016 NYC Admissions Guide, which you can read here.

  • For our story on the Kindergarten admissions process in public schools, click here.
  • For our story on Gifted & Talented program admissions, click here.
  • For our story on charter schools admissions, click here.
  • For our story on independent nursery school admissions, click here.
  • For our story on independent school admissions for Kindergarten and up, click here.
  • For our story on Catholic school admissions, click here.

Mayor Bill de Blasio had promised to make free Universal Pre-K (or pre-Kindergarten) a top priority of his administration, and it is now in effect. If you are interested in a spot for this September, but missed the main and secondary application rounds, there still may be seats available as families change their plans and waiting lists move. To find out how best to proceed at this point, contact the Department of Education’s (DOE) Pre-K For All Outreach Team at 212-637-8000, or try the DOE at 718-935-2009. You can also visit nyc.gov/prek to fill out a Get in Touch form, and an enrollment specialist will contact you to discuss your options.

If you’re planning to apply for a pre-K spot for September 2016, the Main Round for application submissions won’t begin until 2016. As a frame of reference, this year’s Main Round ran from March 16 to the deadline day of April 24. But you can begin to familiarize yourself with the process at any time by visiting nyc.gov/prek. We recommend two initial steps: Visit nyc.gov/prek and sign up for email updates; also, among all the information and resources on the website, focus on the Pre-K Directory for your borough. This past year it was called “2015 Pre-K For All Directory: New York City District Schools & Early Education Centers.” The directory offers a detailed but accessible step-by-step approach to researching and applying for a pre-K spot, and then it lists all the programs in your borough. It basically walks you through the process.

And because it does that, we’re not going take as detailed an approach here, but we will mention a few important highlights:

The city’s Universal Pre-K program allows you to select the programs you want to apply to, but it doesn’t guarantee you a spot at the neighborhood public school that your child is zoned for when you apply to Kindergarten. In fact, your zoned school may not even have a pre-K program. But of course, that will be one of the first things you research. Most of the pre-K programs are for the whole school day. To apply to one of the limited number of pre-K programs available at charter schools, you apply directly to each school. But for everything else, you submit one application with your choices in order of your preference: You can choose among programs in schools or at early education centers, which are places like community-based social service programs and already established nursery schools. When you apply to DOE schools with pre-K programs, you’ll see that priority is given to students who live in the school’s zone, and/or have a sibling who attends the school, or who do not have a pre-K program in their zoned school. Thus it is very difficult to get a spot at a popular zoned school if you do not have a sibling in the school, or you’re not zoned for it. However, most pre-K programs are very satisfactory, even at schools that you might not have considered for the later years (but might after attending pre-K there).

By visiting nyc.gov/prek and studying the Pre-K for All Directory and signing up for email updates with important announcements, you’ll have all the information you need. But if you’re confused, you can seek further guidance at 212-637-8000, or by visiting the counselors at any Family Welcome Center (locations are listed on the website). Also, visit the Inside Schools website (insideschools.org) for reviews of public schools and for summaries of the DOE process.

Eric Messinger is the editor of New York Family; he can be reached at emessinger@manhattanmedia.com. Robin Aronow is the founder of School Search NYC, which advises local parents on both private school and public school admissions. For more on her services, visit schoolsearchnyc.com.

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